'Plaint of the Playwright

'Plaint of the Playwright

[ Friday, October 19, 2001 ]

So the other day, I'm waiting for the bus.

It arrives a little sooner than I expect, so I start getting up the second I see it--about a block away from me.

Suddenly, this guy in a blue windbreaker comes up to me. He has some kind of a sore on his upper lip, and he's smiling as if he knows me.

He does and he doesn't.

"Hey, can you give me, like, a dollar fifty for the bus. I'm just tryin' to get home. I just want it for the bus."

Well, I've got these bus tickets, if you want one of those.

He straightens, sharply.

"Oh, well, that won't really help me...uh...I got a long way to go--"

Well, you can get a transfer slip with the tickets, too, I tell him.

"Well, I'm goin', like, really far out, and uh..."

He realizes that I am staring at him. Not staring at him like he's crazy, but staring at him like I've just caught him at something.

"Okay, look, man, I just need to get some food. I'll be honest with you, now, I just want to get food. A sandwich. That's as honest as I can be. That's as honest as I can be, man."

He keeps saying this:

"That's as honest as I can be."

This, it occurs to me, gives me no indication as to how honest he actually is being with me.

He kind of smiles a bit, acknowledging that he knows that I've caught him, too, and that what I am now paying for is for him to go away.

Maybe it's the East Coaster in me, but I have a double-pronged nature when it comes to giving change to strangers on the street who ask for it. If I'm walking somewhere, I just ignore them and walk on--especially if it's one of those State Street kids.

See, there was a trend amongst the high schoolers a couple of years ago to pretend to be homeless--little tip, guys: don't admit that you've spent twenty bucks on imported piercing oil from Australia and then hit me up for change. You'll get a piercing where you don't want one.

But if I'm stopped, like at a light, or station, or something, I'll just give up the change just to be left alone.

I am not proud of these feelings, but there you go.

At any rate, the bus is coming, and he and I recognize that our time together will be cut short.

I give him some quarters I've set aside for laundry, and he walks away without saying another word.

It is, after all, what I paid him to do.

As I get on the bus, I see him do it to two more people--two guys in suits.

Which is when I notice when he's doing it.

See, he's got a really good system.

He waits until you're the least ready to deal with him.

With the two guys in the suits, he waits behind them until the DON'T WALK sign turns to WALK--and then he hits them with his rap.

He waits for that moment when you switch from one thought to another.

He watches for what you're waiting for to arrive. The bus coming, the light changing, anything--so that when he asks you for change, time is a factor.

I'm looking at the guy, and I see how quickly he's able to do it, and I realize he's really picked the right corner; it has two WALK/DON'T WALK signs, and a bus stop. It's also next to a movie theater and the Civic Center, where they have events and plays.

He must really clean up on the weekend.

All at once, I realize that he's hit me before.

On this same corner.

It was the same gig--just as I start heading for the bus, there he is:

"Hey, mister, can you give me a dollar fifty?"

Um, I say, indicating the bus.

"Well, I'll give you this:"

And he holds up a bus ticket.

So I give him the dollar fifty I already had in my hand and take it.

I wonder how he got the ticket, and then I think, maybe someone burned him on this ticket thing before.

Now, of course, I realize that he uses the money he gets at the corner to buy bus tickets, and then comes back and sells them for a dollar fifty each, making a profit of, oh, sixty cents a ticket.

Well, I thought, at least he earned the money I just gave him.

The Short Con. Gotta love it.

posted by Rob on 4:22 PM | link



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